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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #46: Tolga Karaçelik Unpacks the Power Dynamics on a Cargo Ship in ‘Ivy’

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #46: Tolga Karaçelik Unpacks the Power Dynamics on a Cargo Ship in 'Ivy'

‘Ivy'(filmmaker Tolga Karaçelik’s second feature film) tells the story of a crew trapped on their cargo ship for 100 days — and the power breakdowns that inevitably follow. It’s one of twelve entrants in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition, and it has the special distinction of being the only film from Turkey in the entirety of the festival.

What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?

A cargo ship’s crew has not been paid fully for months. When she reaches her loading port, the shipowner declares bankruptcy and crew realizes that there is a lien on the ship. 6 of the crew has to stay on the ship according to sea safety regulations. So this is the story of a captain and 5 crew members staying on this ship in a remote anchorage area, not able to go on land, with limited sources for more than hundred days.

Now, what’s it REALLY about?

It is about power struggle, my main question while I was writing was this: What means do the head of the authority take to continue the hierarchy when it is not needed? Well, the ship is not moving so it is not a ship anymore, so what do we do with the captain then? I had the chance to think deeply about power, limits, politics and what happens when we reach to the point of breaking down. I both had the chance to analyze macro political situations both in my country and all around the world in a micro way, and also had the chance to go deeper with psychological processes of people.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I always enjoyed writing. My first feature, “Toll Booth.” was also written by me. While shooting “Ivy,” I had the chance and enlightenment of recreating on the set — I don’t mean improvisation; I shot according to the script — I mean reseeing everything I planned and chancing my shooting plan, feeling more what I was shooting. It is hard to explain I guess. I loved it, it was first time for me to get that feeling I had when I was writing. Other than that yeah I was born there, raised here, growing here and there.

What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?

I worked on and with cargo ships for quite some time, had at least 5 long distance journeys in them while I was writing. And I had known the sea and people of the sea since I was small. So I knew too much maybe. One of the challenges was to give that world to the audience, which is really authentic, without becoming too didactic. The other was the challenge of shooting a one location, with 6 characters who have different rhythms and all in interaction. One leg missing of that mathmathics would take the drama and suspension down. Another challenge was how far can I push the limits of genres.

What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?

Firstly, I want them to enjoy the moments, minutes they spend watching the film. I hope that they can spend 100 minutes with us, forgetting the time. I hope without getting out of the movie I can give them a thing or two to discuss within themselves after the movie. For me, if a movie continues after I get out of the theater then it is cinema, if not its just a film. I hope that they take away part of my film when they get out of the cinema 

Are there any films that inspired you?

Well, both a lot and none. I watched a lot of sci-fi movies while I was writing this film. “2001,” “Contact,” etc… if you ask that, but if you ask generally, I am more inspired by literature than movies. As you will see in the beginning of my film, I dedicated this film to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Herman Mellville and Joseph Conrad. Part’s of Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” is in the movie as a separator between parts of the movie.

What’s next for you?

I had finished a script before and won couple of awards with it and was ready to shoot that, it is called “Butterflies” at the moment. It is a black comedy about death and two brothers reuniting. I love it and am so excited about it. It is a personal story. After “Toll Booth” and “Ivy,” both can be called psychological drama, I wanted to shoot a comedy with a sour taste.

What cameras did you shoot on?

Alexa. I am familiar with Alexa. Easy to shoot. But I love 16 mm what I shot my last film and most of my shorts. Alexa is good also, I am happy, it would be really hell to shoot on board of a vessel in those small cabins which is so hard to light to shoot with 16 mm, yeah I am happy.

Did you crowdfund?

I did. I did it via a Turkish website called Fongogo. In Turkey for movies like me you can only get funding from the state, and they by day the risk of censorship is growing. I believe there should be alternatives for funding so we can talk about free art. That was the reason. Other than that I was funded by ministry of culture and was able to finish my small budget movie by co-productions.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. Click here for more profiles.

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